You're damaging your body in all kinds of ways if your job requires you to sit at a desk, but standing for eight hours a day doesn't sound appealing. UpDesk has a solution that lets you alternate between sitting and standing at the push of a button, but are the benefits worth the money? It depends.
Height-adjustable desks are by no means new, but they're a rare sight outside of specific corporate environments, especially if they're electronic. The UpDesk product line has been around for about a year, but it's manufactured by a company with over 40 years of experience in ergonomic furniture design. UpDesk is also one of the better-known brands for ergonomic height-adjustable desks. The company chooses to sell directly to the public in order to retain control of the sale from start to finish and keep prices down. It's not a bad strategy, considering the electronically adjustable desks will take a large chunk out of your home office budget.
My original plan was to get longer legs for my existing Vika Amon tabletop, but a quick search at IKEA turned up nothing suitable. Plan B was to build one of the DIY standing desks previously published on Lifehacker, but that quickly stopped being fun. I had to choose between ugly, expensive, too small, or bolting shelves into the walls of my rented apartment.
UpDesk's director of social media, Kamron Kunce, emailed me after I tweeted about wanting to try a standing desk. UpDesk builds its products and ships them from its manufacturing plant in Nashville, Tennessee. It delivers all over the world, although you have to contact the company via the website to place an order and get a quote on delivery fees, which varies depending on location and time of year.
The UpDesk is clearly a case of function over form, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Its elegantly inoffensive aesthetic starts with a contoured shape that makes it easy to reach further into the far corners of the desk from where you're sitting or standing. Really, the only hint that this is not just any old desk comes from the digital readout on the programmable controller. This is where you control the twin-lift system that raises the desk by 3.8cm per second. You can preset three different heights between 67cm and 108cm, and it can lift up to an impressive 136kg. Pictures: UpDesk
Once you get past the initial setup of the electronic controller, you can program the heights you want and switch between them by pressing one of the numbered presets and holding the up or down button. For safety reasons, the desk only moves for as long as you keep holding the up or down button.
The UpDesk arrives partially assembled in several heavy boxes. It took about an hour to assemble on my own with a screwdriver, but you could easily do it in under 30 minutes with a friend and a power drill. If I had to do it again, I would take my time to make sure nothing is missing or damaged. While the overall desk is built solidly, the plastic parts that make up the electric lift mechanism are prone to cracking, and there was a minor cosmetic flaw in the laminate that was probably the result of being bumped around in transit. UpDesk assures us that customers would not be left out of pocket for missing parts or shipment damages.
It comes in three different sizes in your choice of maple, mahogany and black finishes. There is an orange-coloured UpDesk as well, but it only comes in the medium size. The 3cm thick laminate desktop is pleasant to the touch, but it could really do with a more modern design, or at least a wider variety of styles. The desk comes complete with its own cable ties, so you can keep all your cords neatly tucked away. (I forgot to put mine on in the excitement of trying the lift mechanism.) You just have to be mindful that raising and lowering the desk could affect the position of the cords.
UpDesk says that its desks reduce fatigue and promote a healthy posture. There are plenty of studies that support the benefits of not sitting all day, but the solution isn't necessarily to stand all day either. This is what makes the UpDesk so ideal for people who are worried about these health implications. You can alternate between sitting or standing at the touch of a button, whenever you please.
The UpDesk is also ideal for shared workspaces. You could have one standing preset for you, one for your spouse, and one for when either person is sitting down. The height can be adjusted down to the centimetre, so you could even set the presets to match your shoes.
It's hard to argue with the sheer convenience it gives you over a clunky DIY standing desk that you can't easily move back down. And, if you're serious about your health, you won't tempt yourself with a tall stool you'll end up sitting on all day when you should be standing.
The main one is obviously cost. The desk itself starts at $US899 for a small (122cm x 76cm), $US949 for a medium (152cm x 76cm) and $US999 for a large (183cm x 76cm). That's significantly more than most people would be prepared to spend on a desk. But this isn't a desk for most people; this is a desk for people who have tried a standing desk, liked what it did for them, and would use their health to justify sparing no expense on a height-adjustable version.
And then there's the added cost of shipping to Australia from the United States. "A ballpark shipping cost would probably be around $US469 for a small PowerUp," Kunce says. "That includes dock-to-dock, not [including] duties and/or taxes." So you would be looking at a minimum investment of about $US1400, but it could also be the last desk you ever buy. UpDesk provides a five-year warranty, but this is the kind of desk that you could keep for years and years with minimal maintenance.
Realistic expectations are also important. I was so wrong to think that I could suddenly work standing up for hours at a time after sitting at a desk... all my life. My heels and legs became stiff and uncomfortable within the first hour. If you have a hardwood floor, you almost certainly will need a mat to stop your heels from getting sore, especially if you're usually barefooted. It turns out you have to ease into a standing desk routine. If you have the self-discipline to persist through the discomfort and slowly train yourself away from the chair, you stand to gain the most out of your investment. On the plus side, the discomfort compelled me to work more quickly and take breaks when I wouldn't have otherwise.
Should You Buy It?
A new "concept desk" along with a refresh of its existing product line is expected soon, so it would make sense to wait for those announcements. Either way, UpDesk is not selling you a desk — it's selling you better posture, better health and better productivity. That's a seductive proposition for those of us looking to become more efficient in our day-to-day activities, and who doesn't want that? If this was a $300 desk, it would be a no brainer. The fact that it is so expensive means that you have to be absolutely sure that you want the convenience and flexibility of a height-adjustable desk, and you have to go in with the mindset that this is a serious investment in your long-term health and productivity. For a few people, it's money well spent. For the rest of us, try making your own or try an exercise ball.